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Ecuadoran lawmakers voted this week to begin an impeachment trial against conservative President Guillermo Lasso, a move many analysts said could set off a political crisis in the Latin American nation, the Washington Post reported.

The vote marks the first time an Ecuadoran president has been targeted for impeachment proceedings since the country’s return to democracy in 1979.

Lasso faces accusations of embezzlement, specifically of improperly handling state contracts for oil transportation with a private company. Opposition lawmakers said his decisions, made knowingly, resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in public funds.

But the conservative leader denies any wrongdoing, saying that his opponents are initiating an impeachment process for decisions made from 2018 to 2020, before he was president.

A legislative oversight commission investigating the case found no evidence suggesting that Lasso knew about the contracts and also that he did not promote signing a new agreement with the private firm. The commission also recommended against impeachment proceedings.

The recent vote comes as Ecuador is grappling with a wave of drug trafficking and violence unlike any in its history. Since 2021, hundreds of inmates of the country’s gang-dominated prisons have been killed in over a dozen massacres.

Lasso’s trial is expected to begin later this month but political observers noted that he could avoid impeachment by initiating a constitutional mechanism.

The mechanism – “muerte cruzada” or “crossed death” – allows the president to dissolve parliament and usher in a new presidential election within six months.

But analysts cautioned that such a move could result in massive political upheaval: Ecuador’s largest Indigenous federation vowed to launch mass demonstrations if Lasso moved to dissolve parliament.

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